Crunch time for multiple incumbents as seven states hold elections

Members are facing other members, runoffs and well-funded opponents

Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo faces a runoff in Mississippi Republican primary after getting less than 32 percent in a primary earlier this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Mississippi Rep. Steven Palazzo faces a runoff in Mississippi Republican primary after getting less than 32 percent in a primary earlier this month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted June 27, 2022 at 6:00am

There’s a pair of member-versus-member primaries in Illinois, incumbents facing elimination in Mississippi runoffs and an empty seat being filled in Nebraska on Tuesday as seven states hold elections.

A Utah senator faces challengers, while Oklahoma is holding two Senate primaries, one of which is a special election to fill a vacancy that won’t actually occur until January. New York’s House primaries are not until August, but two sitting House members are on the ballot Tuesday running for governor along with a recently resigned member vying for lieutenant governor, the job he was just appointed to fill. 

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado is vulnerable in a GOP wave this fall, and his party has been meddling in Republicans’ choice of his opponent. And a seat that Colorado gained through reapportionment is just one of the many open districts where nominees are being chosen.

Here’s a look at what’s at stake:  

Members facing members

At least two incumbents are guaranteed to lose Tuesday in a pair of primaries in Illinois. Republican Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller are locked in a contentious battle for the solid GOP 15th District. The race has attracted nearly $12 million from outside groups, with the Club for Growth investing more than $2.3 million to boost Miller, according to Federal Election Commission filings. Former President Donald Trump held a rally over the weekend in the district to showcase his endorsement of Miller, a controversial freshman who apologized for comments about Adolf Hitler just days after assuming office. Despite Trump’s support for Miller, Davis has continued to embrace the ex-president. 

On the Democratic side, Reps. Sean Casten, who flipped a seat in the 2018 blue wave, and Marie Newman, who beat longtime Rep. Dan Lipinski in a 2020 primary, are contending for their party’s nomination in the 6th District. Outside groups have spent almost $800,000 in the race with more than $500,000 against Newman from the pro-Israel DMFI PAC, disclosures show. Newman ousted one of the last remaining anti-abortion rights Democrats in Lipinski, but in this year’s primary both Casten and Newman support abortion rights and Planned Parenthood has endorsed them both. 

Are these incumbents vulnerable too?

Two House Democrats in Illinois face well-funded challengers: Reps. Danny K. Davis and Raja Krishnamoorthi. Davis’ campaign for a 14th term in the deep-blue 7th District faces a challenge from progressive Kina Collins as well as ​​from Denarvis Mendenhall. Collins — backed by Justice Democrats, which disclosed spending just shy of $400,000 in outside messaging on her race and has supported other primary challengers including now-Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — outraised Davis in this election cycle, hauling in more than $600,000 to his $450,000. But Davis had far more cash on hand, nearly $600,000, to her $80,000 as of June 8. 

Krishnamoorthi, in the 8th District, still held a huge financial advantage with nearly $13 million cash on hand, even as his primary challenger, IT consultant Junaid Ahmed, had raised more than $1 million. Ahmed had less than $100,000 as of June 8.

In Mississippi, Republican Reps. Michael Guest and Steven M. Palazzo could both be denied spots on the November ballot in runoffs Tuesday. Guest finished second by just 300 votes to Navy veteran Michale Cassidy in the June 7 primary in the 3rd District. In the 4th, Palazzo finished first in a seven-candidate field, but he had less than 32 percent and his other challengers have since endorsed second-place finisher Mike Ezell. Both incumbents have led in fundraising and support from outside groups since the primary. And Mississippi Rep. Trent Kelly held a series of “emergency” fundraising receptions for them, according to an invitation obtained by CQ Roll Call. 

In the Senate, Utah Republican Mike Lee’s biggest challenge to reelection may come from independent candidate Evan McMullin in November, but the incumbent first must prevail over two primary challengers. One of them, former state lawmaker Becky Edwards, has raised more than $1.5 million. Lee, though, held more than $2.2 million in his campaign account as of June 8 to Edwards’ $165,000. A third Republican, former gubernatorial aide Ally Isom, had $50,000 of her $675,000 haul. The Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and other outside groups have disclosed spending about $500,000 in support of Lee. 

Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford’s primary challenge from Tulsa minister Jackson Lahmeyer has attracted attention for his support from some prominent Trump boosters, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign advisers Roger Stone and Rudy Giuliani. But strategists familiar with the race said Lankford is favored to win the nomination. Lankford has received $105,000 in outside support from a group called Defend Oklahoma Values. He reported $4.7 million in receipts and had $2.1 million left on hand on June 8. Lahmeyer raised $925,000, including $54,000 he gave his own campaign, and spent all but $66,000. 

Nebraska fills 1st District seat

Two state senators, Republican Mike Flood and Democrat Patty Pansing Brooks, face off in a special election to fill the remaining six months of the term of former GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry in Nebraska’s 1st District. Both Flood and Pansing Brooks were nominated by their party leaders.

Flood spent most of the year focusing on a May primary challenge to Fortenberry for the seat in the next Congress, and he spent almost all of the $1.2 million he had raised as of June 8 — including a $65,000 loan he gave to the campaign — on that race. But Fortenberry ended up resigning in March after he was convicted for lying to federal investigators about illegal campaign contributions, and Flood easily won the nomination. Since then, he has benefited from $25,000 in support from the libertarian conservative Americans for Prosperity Action super PAC and has been running ads blaming Washington Democrats for inflation and high gas prices and reminding voters to cast ballots in the special election.

Pansing Brooks raised $785,000 and still had $365,000 in the bank. She also ran in and won the May primary, but that race was less competitive, allowing her to channel most of her energy into establishing her bipartisan bona fides and producing ads declaring she is the only candidate who would defend women’s rights and fight inflation. 

The district encompasses Lincoln and its suburbs, territory Nebraska Democrats have seen as potentially competitive in recent years, and it became slightly less Republican under the state’s new congressional map, which is being used for the special election. Inside Elections rates the November race as Sold Republican. The district still would have voted for Trump by 11 points in 2020, but the unusual nature of the special election makes turnout unpredictable.

Mullin aims higher, leaves opening

Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin is one of 13 Republicans vying for the nomination to fill the remainder of Republican Sen. James M. Inhofe’s term after he resigns in January

Strategists familiar with the race said Mullin’s name recognition from his 10 years of representing his Tulsa-area district in the House will likely give him an edge, and he has almost a 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over anyone else in the race. He could also be boosted by the general lack of negative advertising during the contest. But with so many candidates on the ballot, it is unlikely that anyone will get a majority of the vote, which would push the top two finishers into an Aug. 23 runoff. 

Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, who ran in a special GOP primary for the state’s other Senate seat in 2014, has held the second spot in recent polls, including a survey of 400 likely GOP primary voters in early June by the Oklahoma City-based Amber Integrated. That poll found Mullin leading Shannon 38 to 19 percent, with former Trump administration Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in third, with 6 percent, state Sen. Nathan Dahm at 5 percent and former Inhofe aide Luke Holland at 4 percent. 

Shannon has aired television ads calling for the end of birthright citizenship, and Holland attracted attention for ads showing him praying for spiritual renewal in the United States. 

Self-funder Randy Grellner, a primary care doctor, spent $1 million on the race, more than anyone but Mullin, and has aired ads attacking Shannon and Mullin as “career politicians” who haven’t done enough for their constituents. 

Shannon got $1.7 million in support from the Oklahoma Conservative Alliance, a superPAC that is only supporting him. Mullin got $884,000 in support from the Defend US PAC and Crypto Innovation, and Holland got $564,000 from Okieway, a superPAC that has been airing ads calling him “Jim Inhofe continued.” Dahm got $1 million in support from the Protect Freedom Political Action Committee, which is affiliated with both Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. 

Former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn, who was the first Democrat in decades to represent the suburban Oklahoma 1st District but lost in 2020 after one term, is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Trump won Oklahoma with 65 percent of the vote in 2020, and the race in November is rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. 

Mullin’s decision to run for Senate also spurred a crowded race for his Solid Republican 2nd District seat, with 14 Republicans on the ballot in the primary. Almost all of the top fundraisers at least partially financed their campaigns with personal loans. 

Guy Barker, a finance executive for the Quapaw tribe, spent the most money, almost all of it coming from a $770,000 loan he gave to his campaign. Other top spenders were Chris Schiller, a pharmacist, and state Rep. Avery Frix. State Sen. Josh Brecheen got the most outside help, with $570,000 in support from the School Freedom Fund, a super PAC affiliated with the anti-tax Club for Growth. A group called Fund for a Working Congress, which has also spent on Republican primaries in Georgia and Ohio this cycle, spent $220,000 opposing Brecheen and $72,000 opposing John Bennett. Bennett is a retired Marine and fractious former state GOP chairman who led an effort to censure Republican members of the state’s congressional delegation last summer for voting to affirm President Joe Biden’s election, and compared vaccine mandates to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany.  Bennett got $40,000 in outside support from American Liberty Fund, a group whose website says it backs “pro-liberty” candidates who will “DISRUPT” Congress. Frix got $105,000 in outside support from American Jobs and Growth PAC, with a handful of other groups spending nominal amounts to help other candidates in the race. State Sen. Marty Quinn was not one of the top fundraisers, but he has a significant base in the district, strategists familiar with the race said.

Rocky Mountain hijinx by Dems?

Colorado construction company owner Joe O’Dea is the rare Republican candidate in a competitive race who has expressed some support for abortion rights — he says the procedure should be allowed early in preganancy, in cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. The position is one of several striking contrasts between O’Dea and state Rep. Ron Hanks, the two Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in November. 

National Republicans say privately that their hopes of defeating Bennet increase exponentially if O’Dea is the nominee because his positions are more in line with general election voters in the purple state. 

O’Dea also unequivocally accepts that Biden won the 2020 election — “I’ve been very clear about my stance,” he said in a recent debate. “Biden’s our president. He’s lousy.” And he says he would not vote to repeal the 2010 health care law. 

Hanks, who has worked in the oil and gas industry and served in the military, opposes all abortions, supports Trump’s false claim that the election was stolen and attended the Jan. 6 rally on the Capitol - though he says he did not enter the building. He also says the health care law should be repealed. During the debate last week, he left open the possibility that he would contest the results of the primary if he did not win. 

O’Dea has had significantly more money to spend on his campaign — he raised more than $1.2 million and kicked in another $1.1 million of his own money. Hanks, by comparison, has raised $125,000 — an unusually small amount for a competitive Senate campaign. But political observers in the state say not to write Hanks off because his positions could be more palatable to the base voters more likely to vote in a primary. A case in point: O’Dea got on the ballot by collecting signatures, a somewhat onerous process, while Hanks was the only candidate awarded a spot on the ballot at the state GOP’s nominating convention in April.  

Democratic groups are also pitching in to help Hanks, who they see as an easier opponent in November. A group called Democratic Colorado has spent $4 million on the race and has been airing ads questioning O’Dea’s conservative credentials and calling Hanks “too conservative for Colorado,” which some Republicans have said was a transparent attempt to boost Hanks’ profile with right-leaning voters before the primary.  

O’Dea has also benefited from almost $900,000 in outside spending from the American Policy Fund, a group whose donors include Texas GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw and several prominent Colorado construction company business owners. 

Will Boebert face pushback?

Two years after she defeated a Republican incumbent to win her western Colorado seat, Rep. Lauren Boebert’s unorthodox style has earned her a primary challenge from state lawmaker Don Coram.

Coram is pitching himself as a more traditional Republican who relies on relationship building and hard work to get things done and isn’t afraid of reaching across the aisle. Boebert’s national celebrity as a gun-toting, mask-eschewing Trump ally who sometimes uses anti-Muslim rhetoric has fueled her fundraising, though. She has spent $3.4 million and still had more than $2 million in the bank on June 8. Coram, by contrast, raised just $229,000 and had spent about half of it by June 8. Outside groups have pitched in more to help Boebert than to hurt her — she got $330,000 in support from the far-right House Freedom Fund, Right Woman PAC and Drain the Swamp PAC, while four groups spent a combined $122,000 opposing her and supporting Coram. 

Still, there are some signs of concern for Boebert — The New York Times reported this week that thousands of Democrats registered in the primary as unaffiliated to cast ballots against her. Boebert’s House office has stepped up its promotion of her bipartisan work in Congress, which is uncharacteristic and a potential signal that she is trying to defang her opponent. 

“That suggests she might be a little bit worried,” said University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket. But he drew a distinction between Boebert and North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn, whose similar style contributed to his May primary defeat. While Cawthorn drew opposition from prominent Republicans for comments that embarrassed them publicly, Boebert has reserved her attacks for people most Republicans see as enemies. “For the most part, she is hating on the right people,” he said. “That doesn’t usually bother them.” 

Three Democrats — businessman Adam Frisch, progressive activist Soledad Sandoval Tafoya and engineer Alex Walker — are vying for their party’s nomination. Frisch has the most money with $2.5 million in receipts, including a $715,000 loan he gave the campaign, and had $628,000 left on hand. Sandoval raised more than $900,000 and had $30,000 left on June 8. Inside Elections rates the November race as Solid Republican. 

Who’s going to fill open seats?

Redistricting and reapportionment have scrambled congressional districts with elections Tuesday, including Illinois (which lost a House seat) and Colorado (which gained one). Along with retirements and incumbents shifting seats, that means several candidates are vying for open seats this week. 

Seventeen Democrats are on the ballot to fill Illinois’ 1st District seat of retiring Rep. Bobby L. Rush. They include Karin Norington-Reaves, state Sen. Jacqueline Collins and Jonathan Jackson, son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Rush has endorsed Norington-Reaves, former CEO of the Cook County Workforce Partnership. Inside Elections rates the race in November as Solid Democratic. 

With Newman running in the 6th District, four candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination in the newly drawn 3rd District (a seat that Inside Elections rates as Solid Democratic this fall). State Rep. Delia Ramirez has the backing of Emily’s List. Two Democrats and four Republicans are seeking nominations in the redrawn 13th District, which Republican Rodney Davis represents now. Nikki Budzinski, a one-time aide to the state’s governor, and businessman and former basketball player David Palmer are seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat. Inside Elections rates that November race as Lean Democratic. 

In Illinois’ 17th District, where Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos is retiring, six Democrats and two Republicans have lined up for the seat. Republican Esther Joy King, who narrowly lost last cycle to Bustos, has been the top fundraiser among all contenders, bringing in nearly $2.8 million. All six Democratic contenders were struggling with name recognition, according to a poll last month. Former TV meteorologist Eric Sorensen had the most, and he’d raised the most among Democrats with $450,000 by June 8, FEC filings showed. Inside Elections rates the race as Tilt Democratic.  

Colorado has two competitive open seat races in the Denver area. Four Republicans are vying for the nomination in the newly created 8th District, which Inside Elections rates a Toss-up. Thornton mayor and oil and gas engineer Jan Kulman is the top fundraiser, with almost $470,000 in receipts. Weld County Commissioner Lori Saine, who has advocated for Biden’s impeachment, got support from anonymous mailers that touted her conservative credentials and that the Colorado Sun traced to a firm that generally works with Democrats. As with the Senate race, that’s a sign that Democrats could be working to support her candidacy because they see her as the easier opponent in November. Democratic outside groups or groups that typically support Democratic candidates have spent almost $500,000 supporting or opposing Saine. Kulman got $40,000 in support from a group called Colorado Conservatives for Retaking Congress. State Sen Barbara Kirkmeyer got $547,000 in outside support from the influential Americans for Prosperity Action PAC and Let America Work, with 314 Action, a group that supports candidates with science backgrounds, spending $48,000 opposing her. Democrat Yadira Caraveo, a pediatrician and state lawmaker, is running unopposed. 

Three Republicans are vying for the nomination to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter in the newly redrawn 7th District, which stretches from Denver south beyond Colorado Springs. Economist Tim Reichert has reported $1 million in receipts — including a $500,000 loan he gave his campaign and a $5,000 contribution from the leadership PAC of Missouri GOP Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer. Army combat veteran Erik Aadland, who has also worked in the oil and gas industry, has raised almost $500,000 — including a $129,000 candidate loan. He has contributions from the leadership PACS of GOP Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska and former Rep. Ryan Zinke of Montana. Aadland also has benefited from $131,000 in outside help from a group called For Colorado’s Future, which divided its spending between supporting Aandland and opposing Reichert, while Reichert got $83,000 in support from a group called Conservative Leadership for Colorado. 

Democratic state Sen. Brittany Pettersen is running unopposed. Inside Elections rates the November race Likely Democratic. 

House watching in New York

New York’s congressional primaries were to have been held Tuesday, but a redistricting battle moved House contests off until Aug. 23. But there are still some members of Congress on the ballot.

Along with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for another term, the primaries for governor include Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin and Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi. And Antonio Delgado, who resigned his seat representing the 19th District on May 25 after being appointed lieutenant governor, is seeking the Democratic nomination for that post as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s running mate. Ocasio-Cortez endorsed one of his opponents, progressive activist Ana Maria Archila.